A Future Europe with Renewable and Nuclear Energy

nuclear energy reactor plant

Given the overall energy transformation vision of the European Union, one would expect that both renewable power and nuclear energy plants would be used to satisfy our energetic needs for the future.

Counterintuitively, multiple social movements across the continent propose to shut down the nuclear energy power plants.

These social movements are suggesting leaders to make decisions based not on scientific, technological or any kind of reasonable argument, but by using their own “inner guts” that nuclear energy by itself is something detrimental to society. By the end of 2022 it is expected that in Germany all of the nuclear power plants will be closed (accounting, as of October 2021 for about 13% of Germany's energy requirements).

If such decisions would be taken in the future across the European continent, our dependency on natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels would increase.

Even in the scenario that all of our energetic needs would be satisfied in the future through renewables (mostly solar and wind power plants), the price per kiloWatt-hour that the governments and private consumers would pay would be higher than it should be.

Combining nuclear and renewable energy sources over the continent would be a way to both move towards an almost carbon-neutral economy in a feasible manner that would be advantageous for the European Union.

Currently there are divergent visions in the EU on whether nuclear power plants would be essential in the continental economy of the future.

Countries such as France, United Kingdom and Romania are extending their nuclear infrastructure (France for example produces approximately 76% of its energy through nuclear power plants, which obviously are not generating any greenhouse gas).

The countries that are moving towards a carbon-neutral economy and base their macroeconomic decisions on reason and science opt for including nuclear power production in their energetic infrastructure. The countries in which the anti-scientific and fear-based decision making processes are gaining momentum are opting for an arbitrarily nuclear phase-out (shut down).

Beyond being suboptimal, nuclear shut-down would lead to losing valuable knowledge in the field and affecting the extractive industry in the European Union. Moreover the lives of those working in the nuclear energy generation related sectors would be negatively affected.

One positive example is that of Romania which will open two additional modernized CANDU 6 reactors to its energy infrastructure through the P-TEC program (Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation).

At a high level this means Romania signing a contract for 6.8 million euros with the United States government for extending its nuclear infrastructure (completing everything before 2030). Compared to Romania’s GDP this amount is extremely small.

Other Central and Eastern European countries also collaborate with the US in order to develop or extend their nuclear production facilities: this is a way of not wasting the energetic potential of any country. These countries are Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Finland is planning to build NPPs too.

In the case of the Balkans the advantage of nuclear power plants is that of generating energy at a relatively low cost, and moreover preparing for the European future of the carbon-neutral economy. Waiting too much to further develop the energetic sector will be costly for us.

Additional taxes will be imposed for fossil-based energy generation.

In the case of Greece that is an issue to be accounted for now, mostly due to its reliance on fossil energy sources (about half of Greece’s energetic needs are satisfied through lignite power plants and 20% through natural gas).

Only 20% of Greece's energy needs are covered through renewable sources (wind and solar), and this fraction will increase over time but at a relatively modest rate.

For Greece to adapt to the carbon-neutral European economic future in a timely and feasible manner the government must invest in developing its nuclear infrastructure through the P-TEC program in collaboration with the US and EU partners.

CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) is a nuclear energy generation technology which reached maturity and is very safe and would use regional resources (uranium rich ores for fuel, heavy water moderator produced at the Drobeta Turnu Severin plant) and moreover it would generate new and highly paid jobs in the region.

By using this technology we are also producing tritium in extraction plants from the nuclear waste water. When Romania will finally develop new reactors in Transylvania, beyond its four in Cernavoda, it would also extract tritium for use in ELI-NP experiments regarding thermonuclear fusion as energy source.

That is a useful fuel resource for the future (its half time is of about 12.5 years making it of commercial use). Global powers are also buying tritium for their national use.

By building two 800MW design nuclear reactors near the Adriatic Sea shore by 2030 Greece would be able to satisfy about 30% of its expected energetic requirement, preparing thus for the future.

From an energy perspective, nuclear power plants are an economic and feasible way to produce energy in a centralized way which is then transmitted to large consumers (say large cities) via the electrical grid, while renewable energy sources are well-suited for distribution to individual/small consumers.

In critical situations having a distributed power generation and storage grid is key to having at least a limited power supply to all households in a region or country.

Wind and solar local energy production could be stimulated also through economic mechanisms such as the government supplying the solar panels, power electronics equipment and wind turbines at lower prices than their market value (obviously after estimating the demand and the governmental impact over such products demand).

Now is the time to make strategic investments in renewable and nuclear power energy production for our regions. Opportunities come and go.

Codrin Paul Oneci is a Romanian student studying aerospace engineering and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor